- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) - Chris Espinosa landed in Katmandu in late November with the goal of making it to the south base camp on Mount Everest.

He first started traveling internationally 10 years ago.

“It makes everything make a little more sense,” Espinosa said. “You see the world happening, not just our little daily economies or priorities.”

During his travels, he asked others where to go, and the most common response was Nepal and Myanmar, the Tahlequah Daily Press (https://bit.ly/1N4diW8 ) reported. So he went to Nepal to climb the tallest mountain in the world.

“It’s more difficult to renew your tag than it is as an American to travel most places,” Espinosa said. “There are 194 recognized countries, and you can go to 190 of them without blinking an eye with an American Blue and Gold passport.”

He headed to Everest upon arriving with a German doctor he met in Katmandu. That man had taken the trek alone in a little over a week.

“I took my time, but it was amazing,” said Espinosa. “They call it the third pole.”

The height of the mountain facilitates multiple glaciers. One of Espinosa’s goals was to see a glacier, which he did when visiting Everest Acumbua Ice Fall.

“That was a bucket list thing,” said Espinosa.

Climbing Everest was no easy feat.

“When you go to the mountains, you visit more than one mountain range. When you go through, you’ve got to acclimate,” said Espinosa.

That means taking shorter treks to help the body adjust to the altitude and the temperature of each section of the climb.

“You want to quit sometimes because when you are hiking through the lower mountains, it’s like desert, really, so it’s hot - really hot,” said Espinosa.

From there, the weather changes again to a green mountain range.

During different treks, Espinosa also went through tropical and temperate climates.

“I went through a jasmine forest at one point,” said Espinosa. “There were rhododendron trees the size of a redwood forest; I never knew such a thing existed. You can imagine walking through the rain in a jasmine forest with rhododendron trees. You travel because you want to go to that big old mountain over there, but then, all these other things happen.”

Afterward, trekkers hit the snow. Nights are cold and the terrain is steep - much more so than other mountain ranges.

“Even a layperson can tell the difference,” said Espinosa. “You can clearly tell a Himalayan peak.”

Time before and after each trek must be considered.

“Each trip takes at least two or three weeks. Then it takes three or four days to plan, and make sure you have trail food, and the right socks, clothing layers, park permits and all this stuff and that takes several days. And when you get back you’re kind of a wreck,” Espinosa said.

On the trip, he met a Finnish producer, and together they produced an album in Kathmandu. As they made their way down Everest, they stopped at a checkpoint for food, and saw a single guitar.

Together they played the instrument, four hands working together to make a combination of melodies.

Espinosa knew they had a special musical chemistry and suggested they try to record something once they were back down the slopes.

“I really just Googled it,” said Espinosa, describing how they found the recording studio.

The quality of the equipment amazed the producer. Over the next few weeks, they put together an album more cheaply than they could have in Europe or the U.S.

After his time in Kathmandu, Espinosa decided to climb other mountains in Nepal.

The second trip was to Annapurna. Espinosa climbed to the peak of Kala Patthar, the tallest peak he has ever reached, at 18,518 feet high. He accompanied a group to the top of the mountain in the dark, and watched the sun rise over Everest. He was about to give up when he met the other hikers, and he later encouraged them to push to the top.

“So much of it is mental,” said Espinosa.

His third trip was to Janakpur for the Holi festival.

“I like the food, the people, the religions, the rituals. The reasons people get up in the morning are often so similar, yet completely backward to what we are use to,” said Espinosa.

His final trip was to Langtang.

“Langtang village was wiped out in the earthquake, which was the last place I visited,” said Espinosa. “Nobody survived, just five weeks later.”

Several dozen people also died at the Everest south face base camp.

Espinosa had a chance to go back up the mountain in Langtang and lead another group of trekkers, but something didn’t feel right.

He also felt he should go see his grandfather in Hawaii, so he returned to Katmandu and left Nepal.

He left behind a separate life, with fellow travelers who became close friends, and locals he ate with, lived with and even celebrated holidays with during his time in Nepal.

“I had friends, I had my own restaurant spot,” said Espinosa. “You get to know people.”

The official count of those who died in the earthquake is 8,000. Espinosa believes that number is impossibly low, with countless undocumented Tibetan refugees living in the Nepalese borderlands.

Espinosa would not put it past the government to lie about death toll.

People asked him if it was surreal - that the earthquake happened so soon after he left Nepal.

“There was nothing surreal about it; I was like, ‘Oh my god, I hope my friends are alive,’” said Espinosa. “For the record, it’s only surreal from your perspective; it’s all too real.”

He went to Facebook for the Nepal earthquake survivors to check in as safe. His close friends checked in as safe, and Espinosa began to work through what happened.

Espinosa would still like to return to Nepal.

“There are times I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Could that have really happened?’” he said.

He also said traveling internationally is not for everyone, but those who enjoy it can experience a new place and culture.

“Don’t fear traveling if you think staying home is safer, because that’s absolutely false,” said Espinosa.


Information from: Tahlequah Daily Press, https://www.tahlequahdaailypress.com

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